This morning I read a report on the tragic suicide of Bill Zeller, the 27-year-old son of fundamentalist preacher George Zellar. Bill was a Ph.D candidate at Princeton University and a well known internet programmer. In his suicide letter, Zeller reveals for the first time that he was the victim of sexual abuse in his childhood. It is heartbreaking to read how he was haunted throughout his life by the abuse he suffered. Reading the lengthy suicide letter I was struck by the pain and anger he directed toward his family (primarily his pastor-father) and his religious upbringing.
I cannot read such a letter without asking myself some difficult questions. I am a pastor and father of three. My children are healthy and seem to be well adjusted. But I am a sinner with many deep flaws. So I ask myself, to what extent will my sins and flaws impact my children both now and in the years to come? I don't mean to sound pessimistic or fatalistic. God is unimaginably gracious. He covers over a multitude of sins. What is more, God loves my children even more than I. But the reality of my falleness most certainly impacts my kids.
So here are few questions I ask myself as I think about Bill Zeller's sad letter.
1. Am I aware of signs of sadness or feelings of isolation in the hearts of my children?
2. Have I nurtured a relationship with my children such that they feel the freedom to tell me about their pain?
3. Do my children see inconsistencies in my preaching and the way I live?
4. Do I place unrealistic expectations on my children because they are "the pastor's kids"?
5. Do my children perceive that I overemphasize God's holiness to the neglect of His love?
6. Have I helped my children to understand the realities of God's judgment in a way that does not undermine their confidence in His abundant grace for sinners?
7. Does my commitment to the church and ministry appear to my children to be greater than my commitment to them?